Sunday, March 05, 2017

Barchester Towers

Barchester Towers. Anthony Trollope. 1857. 418 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Who Will Be the New Bishop? In the latter days of July in the year 185––, a most important question was for ten days hourly asked in the cathedral city of Barchester, and answered every hour in various ways — Who was to be the new bishop?

Premise/plot: Barchester Towers is the second book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series by Anthony Trollope. Readers once again spend a good deal of time with Mr. Harding and his family: his daughter, Eleanor Bold (newly widowed), Susan Grantly (his daughter) and her husband Archdeacon Grantly. (His grandchildren are mentioned ever-so-briefly). New to the neighborhood are Dr. and Mrs. Proudie (the new bishop and the new bishop), Mr. Slope (the Proudies' private chaplain), the Stanhope family (notably Bertie, the disgraced son, Charlotte, the matchmaking daughter, and Madeline Neroni, the crippled and disgraced daughter who is a charming beauty), and last but not least Mr. Arabin, a new reverend. (Also towards the end of the novel we meet the Thornes).

What is this one about? The old bishop has died. A new bishop has been appointed. Dr. Proudie has two things working against him being well-liked in the neighborhood. First, his wife MRS. PROUDIE who dominates every room she's in--including her husband's office. She's the BOSS of the family, and her presumption is found distasteful by men and women alike. Second, Mr. Slope is in a serious battle with Mrs. Proudie to rule--dominate--Mr. Proudie and be the behind-the-scenes bishop. He's a comical character. (He is definitely more comical than Mr. Collins.) He wants EVERYTHING: money, power, and a beautiful wife. He loses no time in making enemies. Notably, Archdeacon Grantly HATES him head-to-toe. 

Plenty of courting goes on in this one. Eleanor Bold and Madame Neroni primarily receive most of the attention--wanted or not. 

My thoughts: This one is a GREAT novel. It's just a joy to read. 

Favorite quotes:
How much kinder is God to us than we are willing to be to ourselves!
It is not my intention to breathe a word against the character of Mrs. Proudie, but still I cannot think that with all her virtues she adds much to her husband’s happiness. The truth is that in matters domestic she rules supreme over her titular lord, and rules with a rod of iron. Nor is this all. Things domestic Dr. Proudie might have abandoned to her, if not voluntarily, yet willingly. But Mrs. Proudie is not satisfied with such home dominion, and stretches her power over all his movements, and will not even abstain from things spiritual.
He, therefore, — he, Mr. Slope, — would in effect be Bishop of Barchester. Such was his resolve, and to give Mr. Slope his due, he had both courage and spirit to bear him out in his resolution. He knew that he should have a hard battle to fight, for the power and patronage of the see would be equally coveted by another great mind — Mrs. Proudie would also choose to be Bishop of Barchester.
And now, had I the pen of a mighty poet, would I sing in epic verse the noble wrath of the archdeacon
“I don’t think I shall ever like that Mr. Slope,” said Mr. Harding. “Like him!” roared the archdeacon, standing still for a moment to give more force to his voice; “like him!” All the ravens of the close cawed their assent. The old bells of the tower, in chiming the hour, echoed the words, and the swallows flying out from their nests mutely expressed a similar opinion.
There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented.
We are all too fond of our own voices, and a preacher is encouraged in the vanity of making his heard by the privilege of a compelled audience.
Believe me, my child, that Christian ministers are never called on by God’s word to insult the convictions, or even the prejudices of their brethren, and that religion is at any rate not less susceptible of urbane and courteous conduct among men than any other study which men may take up. 
“What,” said he to himself, “can a man’s religion be worth if it does not support him against the natural melancholy of declining years?”
We must talk, think, and live up to the spirit of the times, and write up to it too, if that cacoethes be upon us, or else we are nought.
Our doctrine is that the author and the reader should move along together in full confidence with each other.
There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.
“Wars about trifles,” said he, “are always bitter, especially among neighbours. When the differences are great, and the parties comparative strangers, men quarrel with courtesy. What combatants are ever so eager as two brothers?”
It is ordained that all novels should have a male and a female angel and a male and a female devil. If it be considered that this rule is obeyed in these pages, the latter character must be supposed to have fallen to the lot of Mrs. Proudie. But she was not all devil. There was a heart inside that stiff-ribbed bodice, though not, perhaps, of large dimensions, and certainly not easily accessible.
There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel. 
All of us who presume to teach are bound to do our utmost towards fulfilling our own lessons. 
But we should hardly judge by what we see — we see so very, very little. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Major said...

Late in this novel, a poor clergyman’s wife and the mother of fourteen children elucidates the lesson of her experience: "Oh, that's the way of the world, my dear. They all do just the same. You might just as well be angry with the turkey cock for gobbling at you. It's the bird's nature." Same with people. Trollope describes characters who act in less than ideal ways - Mrs. Proudie, Slope, and Charlotte Stanhope. With genial irony, he also implies the question, Can we imagine a world in which people don’t act ambitiously, graspingly, venally? And he asks similarly of the protagonists – Mr. Arabin, Mr. Harding – can we imagine meek push-overs who don’t act in soft, yielding ways? We can't have honesty without dishonestly, no generosity without greed, no relief without frustration. I think Trollope says basically we have to take life as we find it.